Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Twitter Now

Like many others, I’ve finally added another piece of web 2.0 hardware to my arsenal, Twitter. Head over to @patrickmeaney if you’re interested in adding me and seeing what I’m up to on a regular basis.

The major issue I have with Twitter is that I feel like it cuts dialogue down to even less than it is in the blogging world, until everything’s just a soundbite without any content whatsoever. There’s not much room for substance in 140 words, but I do enjoy getting updates from various celebrities and some people that I actually know. I think it’s a good tool, probably a bit overhyped, but it’s a fine addition to the RSS feed in terms of absorbing a lot of information quickly.

X-Men Forever #1: "Love and Loss"

X-Men Forever #1 came out this week, the much discussed return of Chris Claremont to the X-Men status quo he left in 1991. I considered his entire first X-Men run a satisfying single work in and of itself with an ending that while not totally satisfying does make thematic sense and carries a feeling of finality. But, I definitely wanted to see Claremont continue on from that era, he created a universe that was perpetually renewed and reborn, and could run forever, so why not pick up again and try to take it another sixteen years.

I think most people have the wrong impression of the way that Claremont’s original run worked. Seen today, it’s broken down into greatest hits moments, with heavy emphasis on the Byrne era and Dark Phoenix, and the occasional branch into the later crossovers, or the Paul Smith era. That’s a consequence of the way the run has been collected, but it reads best as a single work, rising and falling over the course of the entire sixteen year run. The series has many distinct eras, but they flow seamlessly from each other, and the real joy of it isn’t in the individual parts, it’s in looking at the big picture, and seeing the characters subtly grow and change over the course of the stories. Storm going punk in the 170s may seem like an abrupt character change, but it’s actually the physical culmination of eighty issues of character development to get her to that point.

As such, I think it’s hard to judge Forever on the first issue. Claremont isn’t like Grant Morrison in the sense that his single issues are so dense and endlessly debatable that each one is an event, his work is all about letting stories develop over time. As such, this issue is largely about laying out a bunch of potential storylines and setting up the dynamic that the team will function under for the foreseeable future. Though narratively, the issue is one big fight scene, he manages to lay down a lot of character threads that will likely be developed as the series progresses. I don’t think it’s as satisfying a first issue as say, Batman and Robin #1, but I think it does the work that’s needed to do to set the stories in motion. You don’t read a Claremont story for the first issue, you read it to watch something develop over time.

I’ve seen some people criticize the book’s premise as self indulgent and confusing. But, I think it’s actually a lot easier for a new reader to pick up this book than a random issue of Uncanny. And, considering these are Claremont’s characters, you could argue that the more recent eighteen years of stories are the alternate universe, and this is the real continuity. I don’t think that this is the book Claremont would have made then, being written in 2009, it’s always going to exist in relation to the stories told in the interim. But, I think it gives Claremont the sort of freedom he used to have in the 80s, the freedom to make real change, and that’s what excites me about the book.

It’s a tricky thing in serial fiction to make you feel like these are the ‘real’ versions of the characters, and that the things that happen to them have actual consequence. Morrison did it with his X-Men, and Claremont certainly had that in the 80s. I think it’ll take me a couple of issues to get into the universe of this book, but I feel like the characters are the ones I knew, and that’s a good sign going forward.

Particularly with the twice monthly schedule, I’m eager to watch the story develop and see what Claremont can do. I don't read that many comic books as monthlies, but I do like the routine of having something to look forward to on a Wednesday. Hopefully the book will be successful enough to sustain itself for a while and give a nice bookend to Claremont’s thirty-five years on the X-titles.

And, in a bit of self promotion, look for a little trailer for my Claremont/X-Men documentary shortly. Once I get the time to cut something together, I’ll put it online so you can see what Chris and his collaborators are looking like today.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Lost: 1x13-2x02

My journey through Lost has continued, bringing me through episodes with some of the series’ best moments, and also some of its most frustrating. The thing that makes the show so annoying is the fact that it’s consistently about 10% genius, 40% good 10% bad and 40% frustratingly drawn out events. Never is that more evident than in the three closing episodes of season one, and the first two of season two.

Let me start with the genius parts. I think the decision to not reveal what was in the hatch in the season one finale was a major mistake in many ways, but the payoff that we finally got in the second season’s premiere was well worth the wait. I love the little world they build in the first few minutes of the episode, giving you huge insight into the day to day life of Desmond, the hatch’s occupant. And, the use of the joyous “Make Your Own Kind of Music” gives everything a surreal feel that works perfectly.

“Make Your Own Kind of Music” powers the other great moment of the premiere, Jack’s delirious journey through the hatch in search of Locke and Kate. The sequence reminded me a lot of the finale of The Prisoner, where “All You Need is Love” blares as Number Six rushes through this bizarre government facility. The filmmaking was great, and the energy reaches a huge peak as the episode ends, and we realize that Jack has met this guy before, brother.

Those two sequences were great enough to make up for a lot of the weaknesses along the way. Season two, at least in its first episodes, maximizes a lot of what’s great about the first season, and what’s frustrating about it. The first season finale is a really problematic episode, paced so slowly you’ve got to figure they left absolutely nothing on the cutting room floor.

I don’t have a problem with slow pacing if it makes sense. The launching of the raft takes a lot more time than you’d expect for a TV show, but it works, giving a real majesty and scale to what’s happening. You believe that this is a critical event in the lives of all involved, and slowing things down lets you really get into the emotion of the moment. These are all their hopes and dreams, sailing away, and in their wordless expressions, we get such insight into how Sun and Jin are feeling. The score magnifies the emotion, and it’s a totally satisfying moment.

However, other than that, “Exodus” is all teasing and no payoff. I think the backhalf of season one is actually pretty solid in terms of developing character and giving us interesting stories that reveal a lot about who the people are in the present, and push them forward. I don’t even think the pacing or flashbacks are that problematic, since they generally work together well. There’s nothing as egregiously mismatched as Charlie’s copy machine vomit story.

Then, “Exodus” comes along, and what should be the culmination of all we’ve seen so far becomes a really limp, drawn out set of episodes that don’t really accomplish anything, the raft story excluded. Part of the problem is structuring the episode around multiple flashbacks, which works at times, like in the Michael and Walt stuff, but then you get a five minute scene of Hurley running to get his flight, which takes you out of the world of the island, and defuses any tension or narrative momentum that’s been built up over the course of the episode. I don’t have any intrinsic problem with that Hurley flashback, it’s a fun scene, and would be great on a deleted scenes section of a DVD, but in the context of the episode, it just detracts from everything else that’s going on.

Film is about casting a spell over the audience. Writing, acting, editing, it’s all about drawing you in and making you believe that what you’re seeing on this screen is ‘real,’ making you feel what the characters feel and experience specific situations and emotions. The goal of this finale seemed to be to build up the threat of the others, through the dual storylines of Jack and co. trying to protect everyone, and Rousseau stealing Claire’s baby. The opening sets up some tension instantly and draws you in to the threat, but from there on, the episode goes so slowly, and has so many digressive flashbacks, you lose the sense of any threat. And, a lot of the character behavior hinges on the idea that there is an immediate threat, so the whole Locke/Jack conflict doesn’t work as well it would if we felt the ticking clock element.

There’s one really good payoff in the episode, and that’s the others stealing Walt and blowing up the raft. I suppose the point was to subvert expectations and have the others pop up where we least expected them, which works in that story, but which also means the rest of this three part episode winds up being a lengthy journey to nowhere.

I watched the whole first season of the show live as it aired, and after the ending cliffhanger, I decided I was done with the show. The entire episode is structured around opening the hatch, to not actually show what’s in the hatch means that we have no payoff at all in the episode. It’s fine if you can watch the next one a day after, but as a season finale, you need a bit more to make it an emotionally satisfying conclusion. And, it wouldn’t bother me so much if the episodes themselves weren’t so absurdly slowly paced.

Now, I don’t want to say that slow pacing can’t work, or that de-centralizing the narrative is by necessity a mistake. On a show like Buffy or Six Feet Under, the characters were so fully drawn, it was nice just to spend time with them, and there wasn’t as big a concern about storyline payoffs. Here, very few of the characters are particularly deep, which means that the narrative has to hold more weight. I think all the Sun and Jin stuff is fantastic, and the Michael and Walt stuff here is great too, I care about those characters. Then, Jack and Locke are interesting in their connection to the thematic development of the series, setting up the faith/reason dichotomy which is made concrete in the title of the second season premiere. It’s a good dynamic, and works.

But, centralizing events around those two characters means that a lot of the other people on the island are left without purpose. The show at the beginning seemed designed to show a cross section of people put together, now most of the ‘civilian’ characters are not doing much, and the populace exists as a device to put Locke and Jack in conflict. People like Charlie, Claire and Shanon really don’t have much to do anymore.

The character who suffers most is Kate, who exists as a wedge to exacerbate conflict between Locke and Jack. It frustrates me to see Jack not let her carry the dynamite for no apparent reason, other than the fact that she’s a woman. It’s a not so subtle sexism that is never really addressed by the show, and diminishes her as a character. Already, most of the female characters are pretty weak, and taking away all her agency makes that even worse. When she says she’s going down the hatch with Locke, it’s not about her action, it’s about Locke winning in his fight against Jack.

It also bothers me that everyone seems so scared of the hatch. On one level, yeah, it’s a mystery on an island with a lot of bad stuff. But, if you’re in the jungle with no hope of escape, a man made structure would seem like the best thing you could hope for, a chance to get back home. I guess I fall on Locke’s side of the argument, believing that things will work out, and not fearing the unknown.

But, in general, I think the show improved in the second half of the first season, and though they’re very frustrating on some levels, particularly the almost tauntingly slow move into the hatch, the first two episodes of the second season open up a whole new realm of stuff for the show to deal with, and I love all the Dharma Institute stuff, from the mysterious button to the Shining like perfectly labeled food pantry.

And, I really like the questions raised by Desmond’s previous conversation with Jack. I’ve heard vague discussion that time travel becomes a factor in the later seasons, and I would guess that Desmond travels back in time after leaving the hatch to go meet Jack at the stadium a few years back, and create a time loop that leads to Jack going to the island in the first place. But, no spoilers on that.

So, I’ll press on. I watched through 2x09 originally, so I’ll soon be in uncharted territory.